In this excellent sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, by Canon William Avis, ICRSS, Pro-Rector of St. Francis de Sales Oratory:
Dom Quinta post Pentecostem 2013
“But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.”
It can happen when least expected. While driving, shopping, or talking to someone, we become enraged at some affront big or small. Sinful anger is but too prevalent in our day. We are very independent and very impulsive. Our pride, our unmortified dispositions, our want of reverence towards God, and our lack of consideration for our brother make us the easy prey of the sin of anger; and so at the slights and injustices offered us we fume and rage with bitter thoughts, break out into abusive language, and are ready to wreak vengeance.
In order to deal with sins that come from anger, it is necessary to understand the nature of anger itself. Like all the passions, of itself, anger is neither good nor bad. Its goodness or wickedness comes from the object to which it tends. In Sacred Scripture we have examples of both kinds of anger, good and bad. In the Gospels our Lord, moved by a righteous anger at the profanation of the Temple by buyers and sellers, drove out those pervertors of the sacred. His anger sprang from an injustice that was being done, and He did what was necessary to restore justice. In another example, this time of bad anger, the book of Kings recounts how King Saul, jealous of the many triumphs and praises of David, became enraged against his faithful servant and sought to kill him. The wicked king’s anger steamed from his hurt pride and led him to desire the innocent blood of another.
If anger then is neither good nor bad, why then is it listed among the seven capital sins? To answer that we must go back to the beginning. When God created man, He created him good. Within man there reigned a harmony, the body was subjected to the soul, the lower part of the soul (where the passions and emotions reside) was subjected to the higher part (the reason and the will). This upper part of the soul was subjected to God. But by man’s sin, the rebellion of his will against the Divine Will, that harmony was shattered because man had separated himself from the source of his inner harmony--God. Since then man’s body rebels against his soul, and the lower part of the soul against the higher part. Because of this tumult, the passions (anger included) try to override the reason and dominate the will. When a passion succeeds in dominating the will, more often than not we commit sin, because instead of heeding the reason that recognizes evil and knows to avoid it, the will is moved by the whims of the passions. It is therefore imperative for us not to be ruled by our passions but instead to dominate them and keep them in their proper place.
Now, while the offences offered us by our fellow man will always be for us a source of temptation, every command of God is accompanied by His grace, which, if we turn to Him and seek his aid, will enable us to control our dispositions and to possess our souls in peace under every provocation. Anger is one of the seven Capital Vices or fountain-heads of sin, and when we allow it to sway us to the extent of raging against our fellow man and desiring to wreak serious revenge on him, it is a mortal sin.
Such a state of mind and heart is particularly despicable to God, because it is directly opposed to the Divine character and to the benignity and mercy constantly manifested in His dealing with mankind; it is opposed to God’s mercy. It is also opposed to the natural piety due from us toward our fellow man and to Christian charity and justice. Every man is our brother, and bears within himself, as we do, the image and likeness of God; he is called, as we are, to eternal happiness in the beatific vision and possession of God; he has been redeemed, as we were, by the Precious Blood of Christ, and his error or offense toward us has not deprived him of these reasons for our kind consideration and charitable patience.
While some of us are more disposed to anger than others, the fault for our angry flare-ups must not be laid to our disposition. For we should know that we are, as children of God and inheritors of the kingdom, bound to mortify and curb our unruly dispositions, and that there is such a virtue required of us as Christian meekness. Our Lord beckons us to imitate Him. “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart,” He says.
We, therefore, appeal to the teaching and example of the Son of God. In his first sermon to the world Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land.”—They shall be the tranquil masters of their souls—blessed and consoled in the possession of Divine faith and grace here, and of the undisturbed inheritance of Eternal joy and glory hereafter—yes, truly, “blessed are the meek.” And with what moral grandeur Jesus endured the contradiction of an entire nation and the insults of His relentless enemies! While He admonished all and denounced the Pharisees in order to save them, He never uttered an angry word; but “When He was reviled He reviled not, but delivered Himself up to them that judged Him unjustly, and was led to the death of the Cross like a lamb to the slaughter, not opening His mouth.” (Isaiah).
Christian meekness is a virtue which moderates the passion of anger and banishes all rancor, hatred and ill-will from the heart. As Saint Peter tells us in today’s epistle, “Hallow the Lord Christ in your hearts.” Meekness is a manly virtue resulting from self-conquest and founded on reverence for God, consideration for our brother and the sense of indebtedness in the sight of God for our own shortcomings and sins. The moral courage exerted in this virtue does a man the highest honor. It is the enraged and resentful man that is a moral coward. He is enslaved to a self-centered pride; his soul is shriveled from the dignity and resemblance of a man, and is swayed by the mean instinct of the brute.
Now let us look at a saint: Saint Francis de Sales was naturally choleric and had a fiery quick temper, but he won complete control over his disposition by the Grace of God and the practice of meekness. An apostolic man, by his learning, zeal, and gentleness, he converted many Calvinists to the true faith. His success so enraged the enemy of souls that, on one occasion, when the saint was preaching to a large assembly of those in error, the devil inspired one of them to go up to the preacher and spit in his face! The saint, not for an instant unsettled, quietly wiped his face and proceeded with his discourse as if nothing had happened. But his example of Christian meekness was the means of converting many hundreds of his listeners.
We always think that we are angry only for good reason. However in most cases we are wrong. The Doctor of Charity gives good guidance as to how we are to view anger. He says, “It is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for, give anger ever so little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily works in its body wherever it can once introduce its head.” And as to handle anger, he advises, “When you feel [anger’s] first movements, collect yourself gently and seriously, not hastily or with impetuosity. Sometimes in a law court the officials who enforce quiet make more noise than those they affect to hush; and so, if you are impetuous in restraining your temper, you will throw your heart into worse confusion than before, and, amid the excitement, it will lose all self-control.”
Let us keep ever in mind the words of Sacred Scripture. “The Lord will guide the mild in judgment, and will teach the meek His ways.” “Therefore let all anger and indignation and clamor be put away from you…And be ye kind to one another, merciful and forgiving, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ…And walk in love, as Christ also loved us and delivered Himself for us as an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.” Amen.